Derek Cianfrance wasn’t looking to film “The Place Beyond the Pines” in the faux confines of a Hollywood set.
Instead, the up-and-coming director wanted somewhere real, a place where he could capture an honest image of an American city. For roughly two months, he turned his cameras to Schenectady and used the city’s people to make his screenplay as authentic as possible.
The production crew worked through the city and surrounding areas, filming from the lockup at the Schenectady Police Department to the inside of the mayor’s office in City Hall. Cianfrance seemed to incorporate more local people with every scene.
By the end of the last scene — shot at the GE Realty Plot last week — he had used roughly 2,000 local extras. About four dozen area residents were even given speaking roles — something that the producers hope will add to its realism.
“From our end, we wanted to make it as authentic as possible and feature real people of the community,” said Alex Orlovsky, one of the film’s producers. “That was really the thing that was most important to Derek.”
But what ultimately amazed the director was how accommodating the city and surrounding area were. Whenever the film crew needed something for a scene or a few extras on short notice, they only needed to ask.
“It really felt like the community came together to support us,” he said Friday. “I don’t think we would’ve gotten that amount of community support anywhere else and I think that’s one of the things that is going to make this film special.”
Of course, the support was mutual. The film crew and actors stayed in the area throughout most of the filming, bringing a tangible boost to the local economy.
A large portion of the production company stayed at rooms in the Holiday Inn on Nott Terrace. The film’s stars were frequently spotted out at city restaurants and bars, which was something that kept social networking sites buzzing.
“To me, this movie put the electric back into the Electric City,” said Don Rittner of the Schenectady Film Commission, who acted as a liaison throughout the shoot. “This was a buzz. People were talking about this for three months around here.”
John Burhmaster, the president of the First National Bank in Scotia, was struck by the film crew’s commitment to incorporating the local community and dedication to making the film as real as possible. For instance, one of the robbery scenes shot inside his bank featured a teller who was actually held up once.
“It shows Derek’s attention to detail,” he said. “He has surrounded himself with people who really want to do something realistic.”
But most of all, Burhmaster was impressed by the humble nature of the film crew and its stars. He said the crew always seemed to operate with a level of kindness and respect that is uncommon in any fast-paced industry.
“That’s hard to find in any business working under stress,” he said.
In the film, Ryan Gosling stars as a stunt motorcycle rider who turns to a life of crime to support a newborn child. He is doggedly pursued by Avery Cross, a rookie cop portrayed by Bradley Cooper, spurring a generational feud that extends from his career in law enforcement through his election as state attorney general.
The film, which is expected to be released in late 2012, also features notable Hollywood actors Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn and Rose Byrne. The star-studded cast attracted crowds whenever a location for a shoot was leaked.
Fans eager to see Cooper or Gosling quickly caught onto the cues used to direct the film crew to set locations. These locations were then publicized through a Facebook page created by a fan and dedicated to the movie.
Kristin Edgar of Rotterdam was among those who regularly pulled up the page to find out where the crew would be filming. She estimated that she went to about 15 different scenes from the time the movie started shooting until she returned to classes at the University at Albany late last month.
“If I knew where it was and I knew they’d let us be there I was pretty much there,” she said.
Edgar hung around the film long enough to befriend one of the production assistants and even land a role as an extra — twice. But the moment she’ll cherish the most was when she posed for a picture with Cooper.
“It was an incredible experience,” she said. “It’s kind of sad that it’s over, but now I’m getting exited to see the movie.”
One of the production crew’s frequent hangouts was David Nigriny’s 20 North Broadway Tavern. From early July until this week, the tavern served as convenient somewhat-anonymous hideaway for the crew to grab some grub or tuck into a few late-night beers.
“From the director on down, they came in quite often,” he said.
Some members of the crew even asked to have the film’s wrap-up party at the tavern, a request that was granted by the production the night before shooting wrapped up last week. Nigriny closed early on Saturday and then hosted a private party for about 125 members of the exhausted crew during the pre-dawn hours Sunday.
“I was very flattered of course,” he said.
Rittner is hoping the synergy that developed between the Pines and Schenectady becomes a topic of conversation as publicity for the movie grows. He’s hoping the positive experience the production company had in the city will bring others to the region.
“These people left with a really good impression of the city and its people,” he said.